Chargers-Patriots Primer

The Chargers-Patriots game showcases several match-ups between the league's premiere players. Can Shawne Merriman rattle Tom Brady? Can Antonio Gates escape the shadow of Adalius Thomas? Can LaDainian Tomlinson get around Vince Wilfork? breaks it down.


The Chargers offense got off easy last week. They gained just 263 total yards, turned the ball over twice and allowed three sacks. They scored only 14 points, less than half their 2006 average. If the Chargers bring a similarly lackluster performance into Gillette Stadium, they will get run off the field.

The primary objective is the get LaDainian Tomlinson back on track. Fortunately, the reigning MVP has a long history of running all over the New England Patriots. Tomlinson registered 187 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns during last season's playoff game. In his two prior match-ups against the Patriots, L.T. combined for 351 rushing yards and four touchdowns. If Tomlinson runs in three more scores on Sunday, he will move into a tie with John Riggins for the fifth-most rushing touchdowns in league history.

Tomlinson will be running behind a proud and motivated offensive line. The Chargers return all five starters for the first time in the L.T. era. The linemen are embarrassed by the way they were overwhelmed by the Bears front seven and are determined to yield better results in week two. Of course, it will help that Richard Seymour is on the physically-unable-to-perform list and Rodney Harrison is suspended.

Philip Rivers knows he will have to do more through the air, especially when it comes to making plays outside the hashes. Starting receivers Vincent Jackson and Craig Davis combined for five catches and 43 yards in week one. Those two should combine for no less than 120 receiving yards on any given week.

Antonio Gates may not be able to carry the passing game as he did in week one. After catching nine passes for 107 yards and a score -- the second time in his career he surpassed 100 yards on opening day -- Gates is battling a sore back. He sat out Wednesday's practice but participated fully on Thursday and Friday. Even if he is 100 percent, he will have to battle Adalius Thomas for most of the evening. When Thomas is sent to rush Rivers, the Patriots will use a complex series of zone defenses to slow Gates down.


Shawne Merriman was on a record-setting sack pace in 2006, finishing with 17 sacks in just 12 games. Then the Patriots came to Qualcomm Stadium for a playoff showdown, and Merriman hasn't taken down a quarterback since. It is vital that streak come to an end on Sunday if the Chargers are to disrupt the unflappable Tom Brady.

Tom Brady has an amazing assortment of weapons; all he needs is the time to find them. He can go deep to Randy Moss, hit Ben Watson between the hashes or check down to Kevin Faulk. Then there's the über-quick Wes Welker, who entered the league with the Chargers in 2004. Welker earned a spot with the Chargers as an undrafted free agent, but was released after week one to make room for Clinton Hart, whom the Chargers claimed off waivers. It will be up to Hart to prevent Welker from getting deep on Sunday.

The Chargers do not have enough talent in the secondary to hang with New England's revamped receiving corps. The key to masking this deficiency is to protect against the big play while making sure tackles. Ted Cottrell will call a bend-but-don't-break defense and try to force the Patriots to drive 12 or more plays if they are going to put points on the board. That will give the front seven plenty of chances to attack and force turnovers and sacks.

The defensive line will be charged with facilitating opportunities for the players behind them. Jamal Williams must dominate in the middle so that first-time starters Matt Wilhelm and Stephen Cooper can shutdown the running game. Cooper missed Friday's practice with a groin injury but is expected to play. If Laurence Maroney gets on a roll, the Patriots offense will be virtually unstoppable.

Luis Castillo also missed Friday's practice, sitting with a foot injury. That was more precautionary than anything, as the team needs him at 100 percent on Sunday. If he can wreak havoc off the edge, he will force the Patriots backs to pick him up, making things easier for the blitzing linebackers coming behind him.


Ellis Hobbs opened the second half of last week's game with record-setting 108-yard kickoff return. Kassim Osgood & Co. will have to be on their game to prevent this from happening again. They got plenty of practice last week, effectively neutralizing Pro Bowl kick returner Devin Hester.

The Chargers are getting a big return of their own, as Darren Sproles will be back in action after enduring a concussion on the opening kickoff of last week's game. Now that Michael Turner has fully recovered from an ankle injury, he will handle the kickoffs while Sproles focuses on punt returns. There is also a chance that Sproles could see time on offense in third-and-long situations.

Nate Kaeding looks to bounce back after having his only attempt blocked by Alex Brown last week. Kaeding, who scored 136 points and earned Pro Bowl honors last season, tallied just two points in the opener.

Kaeding and Mike Scifres will be sure to steer clear of any guide wires set up by the NBC crew. Both kickers claimed to have a kick knick the guide wires in week one, which was covered by Fox Sports. The wires are used to guide the above-field cameras.

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